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Unions slam government for withdrawing Covid-19 advice that helps protect pregnant women at work

TRADE unions and organisations representing hundreds of thousands of pregnant women have blasted a “reckless” decision by Tory ministers to suddenly withdraw Covid-19 advice that protects them in the workplace. 

In today’s joint letter to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Health and Safety Executive, the groups, which include the TUC and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), warn that the move could expose expectant mothers to harm at work.

The letter, also signed by Unite, Unison, campaign group Maternity Action and the Society of Radiographers (SoR), stresses that “clear, accessible guidance” must be available for all employers to ensure compliance with their legal duty to protect health and safety.

RCM chief executive Gill Walton said: “We know from the evidence that pregnant women are at increased risk of severe illness due to Covid-19, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy.

“Previous guidance, including from the government, has highlighted the vulnerability of pregnant women, so to withdraw this guidance, unilaterally, could put women at risk.

“Effective risk assessment in the workplace is essential — that is why we are asking the [DHSC] to republish this advice immediately.”

TUC head Frances O’Grady backed the call, saying that it would help bosses “take action to keep their pregnant employees safe.”

Employers must also be “clear about the need to carry out individual risk assessments for pregnant workers,” she added. 

Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “Pregnant workers need support and protection, not uncertainty and anxiety. Removing this essential piece of guidance is nothing short of reckless.

“We call for full involvement of trade unions and respect for pregnant workers’ health in our workplaces.”

The government should be “taking the lead and ensuring employers have access to the most up-to-date guidance, not taking it away,” Unison leader Christina McAnea insisted.

“By scrapping the guidance, ministers are washing their hands of the responsibility of keeping staff safe.

“They’re also sending a worrying message to employers that meeting their legal safety duty is a matter of choice.”

Maternity Action director Ros Bragg blasted the decision as the latest example of how the health and safety of expectant mothers has been “overlooked time and time again during the pandemic.”

Dean Rogers of the SoR highlighted Ms Bragg’s warning that the crisis is not over, saying that the withdrawal of guidance was “premature.”

The DHSC has been contacted for comment. 

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